Australian tech entrepreneur Claes Loberg, described by those who knew him as a visionary who was ahead of his time, has died aged 53.
The sudden passing of Loberg, who rode the highs and lows of Guvera after establishing the music streaming service in 2008, has shocked the business community with many paying tribute to the tenacious spirit that made him a trailblazer who aimed to monetise content in the digital age.
When he founded Guvera, Loberg had ambitions to go head-to-head with music streaming giant iTunes, developing an advertising-led business model that would make downloads free to consumers.
More recently, the Sweden-born businessman established a new venture Bounty Media, which he founded in Singapore with business partner Jake Denney in 2020.
Bounty Media, which is backed by US venture capital firm SOSV, was established to offer a new way for advertisers and publishers to connect with consumers via a ‘paid for’ subscription model. The company last year raised $1.8 million in a pre-Series A round to fund expansion in South-East Asia.
Denney has described Loberg’s passing as ‘sudden, unexpected and shocking’.
"Claes was much more than a colleague - he was my closest friend, a brother in every sense of the word, and I'm in shock as I write this. He was a friend to all who knew him," Denney tells staff in an email.
"Claes was an inspiration, a visionary, and a driving force behind our shared dream. He believed, as we all do, in the power of what we're building here. Our mission started as a simple idea, a shared ambition between two friends, and has grown into a venture that spans continents, cultures, and industries."
In a separate statement to shareholders, Denney says that Bounty Media’s commitment to Loberg’s founding vision is ‘unwavering.
“His belief in what Bounty could achieve was unshakeable, and it is that belief that will continue to drive us forward.”
Among the many Gold Coast business leaders to pay tribute to Loberg today was Queensland legal eagle Rob Hynes, who describes his passing as a ‘massive shock’.
Hynes founded Queensland firm Hynes Legal in 1997 around the same time as Loberg established his first business, media company Hyro, in the same building in Surfers Paradise. Hyro had a strong list of clients such as Coca-Cola and the Olympics that tapped into Loberg’s creative talents.
'He was a real visionary'
“Claes was one of those energetic and indestructible people that could overcome any challenge and rise to the next occasion,” Hynes tells Business News Australia.
“He was a real visionary who always thought moderate success was never enough. Claes would always shoot for the stars and he had an incredible energy about him. He did a lot more in his time than most people would have done in an entire lifetime.”
In the 1990s, Loberg and his wife Helen created a project called VRLX, where they photographed 45 of the world’s 50 most exclusive hotels to create a Google Earth-style street view of the properties at a time of limited technology and bandwidth.
Hynes notes that throughout his varied career, Loberg remained true to himself.
“He never pretended to be anyone other than who he was,” he says.
By the standards of two decades ago, Loberg was not the typical entrepreneur. His long hair, tattoos and penchant for bling on his fingers, gave him the air of a 1990s grunge rocker.
After Guvera was named in Billboard’s Top 10 start-ups in 2010, Loberg recalled during an interview with Fox Business the challenges he faced fitting into the corporate mould early in his career after he co-founded creative agency Cocojambo in 2002. His partners advised him that he had to wear a suit for meetings, which he did for some time.
“But slowly throughout the process, I realised that I needed to be myself,” he told Fox Business.
“If I’m walking around covered in tattoos and then I’m in a boardroom with some of the biggest investment bankers in the world, well that’s how I’m going to be. If there’s one thing that I have learned, it’s that you need to be yourself and not worry about playing the game.”
James Greig, the Gold Coast entrepreneur who co-founded venue management software iVvy, first met Loberg in about 2006 when he enlisted the marketing genius to create the branding for his first venture Bloomtools, a developer of web tools for businesses.
“In the realm of creativity, Claes was an unstoppable force,” Greig tells Business News Australia.
“He knew who he was and through his thinking he demonstrated an incredible curiosity and determination. He also really challenged a lot of conventions and that was what was so special about him.
“His spirit of curiosity and creativity will hopefully live on with the projects he started, including at Bounty Media.”
Greig and Business News Australia’s managing editor Camilla Jansen had been working with Loberg and Bounty Media to apply his ideas to monetise content for this masthead’s business.
Jansen, a fellow Swede who has grown Business News Australia into a leading website that focuses on startups and entrepreneurs, has paid tribute to Loberg for his ‘creativity and visionary thinking’.
“Claes was one of a kind and his passing is a great loss to the entrepreneurial community. He was a wonderful human being who was years ahead of his time,” Jansen says.
“When I met Claes in 2006, we were solely a print media company without a digital presence. Claes had helped us with our branding and magazine designs those early days and it was he who pushed us to go digital.
“That led to our group expanding from our Queensland base and grow the business to cover exciting business stories across Australia over the past two decades.”
The startup story of Guvera epitomised Loberg’s entrepreneurial spirit, which saw the company tagged as a $100 million company in 2010 after he sealed streaming deals with global music labels Universal Music and EMI.
However, the company faced a series of setbacks by 2016 including a failed $588 million IPO that was led by Darren Herft, the controversial Guvera CEO at the time.
Loberg resumed the CEO position at Guvera after a tumultuous period for the company under Herft’s leadership, taking the business out of Australian and into India and Indonesia, which were identified as key growth markets for Guvera at the time.
The setback never stopped Loberg from pursuing his vision and he has since urged entrepreneurs to never lose faith in their dreams. When asked in 2019 for his reflections on what it takes to be an entrepreneur, he said:
“It’s a hard and sometimes lonely road. Sometimes it gets dark. Stick to your goals. Keep the belief in yourself. But be prepared to pivot. Choose your team wisely, hire great people. Lead from the back of the room and most important: just keep going.”
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